Review: Batman: Long Shadows hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Judd Winick's Batman: Long Shadows is an interesting little Batman (or "Batman Reborn") story. I say "little" because Long Shadows has none of the meta-textual flash and bang of Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin -- but neither is it, as I feared, a cookie cutter repeat of the similar Batman: Prodigal storyline. Instead, whereas Long Shadows is a rather straightforward story about what it would be like if Dick Grayson took over the cowl from a dead Bruce Wayne, it wins points from me for being a rather convincing take on the situation, at that.

[Contains spoilers]

How ever much things in Gotham City return to normal after the return of Bruce Wayne, I'm finding the value of "Batman Reborn" is in the thought experiment of "how would [enter character] do things if Bruce wasn't around?" This is reflected well in the new Batman/Robin relationship and in elements like moving the Batcave (back) into a Gotham City highrise in Morrison's work, and in how Batwoman: Elegy reimagines a Bat-character for the twenty-first century.

This is also reflected in how Winick, moreso than Morrison, examines how Dick Grayson would be a different Batman than Bruce Wayne. Winick fortunately dispenses with much of the "am I worthy of the cowl" angst right at the beginning, and quickly moves to how Dick makes the Batman persona his own -- incorporating more gymnastics into his fighting style, filming his villain take-downs so the police have evidence for court, and assessing the size and weight of his cape so as to make the costume closer to Nightwing's.

This isn't the stuff of superhero action battles (though Long Shadows has that, too). Rather, it's nitty-gritty detailed stuff that probably never even needed to be mentioned, but that I found interesting to learn about nonetheless.

Winick also puts strong focus here on the relationship between Batman Dick Grayson and his faithful butler Alfred. Again, there's fascinating detail here, like Alfred discovering Bruce's childhood drawings because, of course, the family naturally begins gathering up a deceased loved one's possessions once they're gone. I also enjoyed Dick and Alfred's discussion about how their working partnership is different -- Dick is more inclined to take Alfred's advice than Bruce was, and Dick worries and seeks approval from Alfred far more than Bruce did.

And of course, with the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, there's some tears and emotion to be expected, which Winick takes on well with the first chapter's epilogue to Battle for the Cowl; I especially liked the rationale for not holding a funeral for Batman. Later on in the book -- pursuant to Winick's reputation for sometimes being a "soap opera" writer -- Alfred and Dick's mutual appreciation meetings become mildly heavy-handed, but enjoy it while it's there -- no doubt Bruce will be back to his clammed-up self not too long after he returns.

Winick gives every character in the book a talking partner -- Dick has Alfred, Penguin has Black Mask, Two-Face has an anonymous henchman; even Commissioner Gordon alludes to wanting to have a sidekick with him when meeting the new Batman. There's a way in which Long Shadows is something like a play, where every character has a sounding board with which to express themselves with. If intentional, it's a unique way for Winick to structure this story, and goes to the general theme of Long Shadows, how everyone -- Dick, Alfred, Gordon, even Two-Face -- look for surrogates to fill the void left by the death of Batman.

We find in the end that even as Dick does a fair job as a stand-in Batman, Winick leaves no question that the former Robin is not there yet. In the book's ultimate battle between Dick and Two-Face (who, let's not forget, Nightwing handily beat in Peter Tomasi's Nightwing: The Great Leap), Two-Face nearly murders Dick before he's saved by Alfred, dressed up as Batman. Ultimately the Batman hero in Long Shadows is Alfred, or else it takes Alfred and Dick together to equal Bruce Wayne on his own.

This is dangerous ground -- Winick, Tony Daniel, and the rest of the Bat-team only have so long to have Dick find his feet before Batman returns, else Dick comes out of this Bat-era seeming ineffectual (which, for Bat-purists, might be OK). All of it -- from artist Mark Bagley's wonderfully youthful Dick Grayson to the banter with Alfred -- just makes me all the more eager to see some writer's revitalized take on Nightwing, frankly, but there's a bunch of books between here and when that happens.

[Contains full covers]

Ultimately, I didn't find Batman: Long Shadows as lackluster as I had heard it was. This is not required reading for the "Batman Reborn" saga, to be sure, but if you're curious about the tinier "what if"s that go into the loss of Batman, Long Shadows does a nice job filling in the gaps.
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16 comments:

  1. I foolishly decided to stick with Batman itself over Batman & Robin. I say foolishly because after the great character work Winick does with Dick here, we get the WAY too long Life After Death storyline where Dick basically turns into Bruce for no other reason than Tony Daniel wanted to write Bruce! Annoying.

    The Riddler two-parter with Gillian March afterwards is interesting, though.

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  2. I'm still wondering what happened with the memory Dick finds at the end... Is nobody going to explain that?

    By the way, sorry for the off-topic but I think you would like to know this and maybe comment it in a post: I just found a lot of DC Collected editions uncollected in USA that exist in Spain. Planeta DeAgostini Comics is publishing DC there and I was looking at their website... I want all of them!

    They have collected all Flash by Waid in 7 volumes, Ostrander and Mandrake's run on Martian Manhunter and The Spectre (in 2 and 3 volumes each), Hourman, by Tom Peyer and Rags Morales in one mammooth book... Talking about mamooth books, they did also +1000 pages books with all Grant Morrison's run on JLA as well as Geoff Johns/Scott Kolins on Flash!!

    I don't know why DC doesn't follow them. They even have Sandman in an exclusive 7 volumes deluxe edition or a Preacher box in 3 volumes.

    You can find the link to their website at www.planetadeagostinicomics.com
    Once there go to CATALOGO GENERAL in the left column. It will open a new menu there, go to DC COMICS and look at every title, you'll find a lot of surprises I want DC to collect here!

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  3. It looks like these collections are in Spanish; too bad! I noticed that they have collections of Flash: Fast Money and "This is your life, Wally West". These are the last two arcs from Wally's Flash comic, which will probably never be collected on this side of the Atlantic!

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  4. Yes, they have collected those Flash stories you mention. I just saw they collected Joe Casey and Derec Aucoin's run on Adventures of Superman in 2 books! I presume they are the non-crossover stories. I liked those issues and would like to see them collected here!

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  5. I remember the reviews of Winick's first issue were very positive - mainly for the expression of Alfred's grief. I think writing grief is one of Winick's strengths the way Rucka does espionage.

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  6. The cliffhanger of Long Shadows doesn't get explained? Really? Now that's amazing, and a major omission, I think.

    Wow, I got really excited about those Spanish editions of Flash and such ... before I read that they were written in Spanish. Anyone out there been reading these?

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  7. I read issue 687 of Batman and I liked quite a bit . But at the time, I didn't want to invest in too many Bat books. I just stuck with Morrison. Recently I did start to pick up Dini's run, which so far, I have enjoyed more than Morrisons's.

    I am curious though to check out either Winick's run or Daniel's. I'll probably wait for my library to get it so I can try it out first. I am a fan of Ed Benes though. I find his style is similar to Michael Turner's, which I enjoy.

    Some people seem to have a problem with Winick which I don't see. I have his run on Outsiders, Green Arrow, and the first 3 volumes of BA/BC and I found it all to be enjoyable.

    But when it comes to comics and reading in general, I haven't really read anything to make me detest it or the writer. I just like a story to read with a character I can follow on his adventures. Sometimes they're not gonna be great but adventures but to me, they're usually still fun to read.

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  8. Winick said he hopes to pick up on that cliffhanger someday, but he's too busy with other projects right now. It's a shame he couldn't come back to Batman after Daniel's first arc.

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  9. You know the problem was this: Morrison should have stayed in the Batman book doing his crazy stuff. And the others authors Dick´s interpretation would have not been necessary.

    This is all Morrison´s baby. Now he leaves Batman & Robin and starts a new book.

    I´m dropping Batman & Robin after he leaves.

    Why Morrison jumps from book to book instead of staying in Batman is a stupid move from DC.

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  10. @Lucho: I think the jumps are meant to signify clean concept breaks in Grant's overall run. First he started out with Batman, giving humanity back to Bruce. Then he did Batman & Robin, a new book with the new concept, which was a clean break from the previous. Return of Bruce Wayne does... well, the obvious. Now Batman Inc. has the new, different concept. Each concept after the Batman run now has a clean start point.

    That's personally what I believe the thinking to be; who knows, I could very well be off.

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  11. As I mentioned before, this is the "show must go on" problem. I wouldn't have minded if DC suspended publication of Batman for a year while publishing Morrison on Batman & Robin; B&R would have been, essentially, Batman.

    Instead, they published both with just so-so results (on the Batman side), and now B&R is going to continue even without Morrison; I don't want to prejudge, but I just can't believe the title will have the same excitement or quality. These are the times I think DC tries to do too much; I'd rather see one quality Batman title than multiple questionable ones.

    @abu, Judd Winick is one of those of those writers (like Chuck Austin, Jepf Loeb, and increasingly James Robinson) that readers seem to either like or really dislike (see my post "What Did Judd Winick Do Wrong?"). Me, I thought his Outsiders was great; maybe his work is more controversial than most, but that pre-Infinite Crisis Teen Titans/Outsiders era just sang.

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  12. @collectededitions: On one level, I see what you're saying. But the problem is that Detective Comics and Batman are two of the longest running relatively uninterrupted comic runs of all. Taking them off the board for two long just isn't an option I imagine being too attractive, especially considering they're the two best known Batman publications, even among the people that don't read comics. To some extent, DC did rectify this problem a little bit, just not with Batman, since Detective fronted Batwoman for a good stretch of time; but while you can do that with Detective Comics for a spell, it's not really something you can do with something titled "Batman". They tried it with the Superman book and let me tell you, there were disgruntled comic readers who didn't like the fact that they were buying a title called Superman that didn't actually have Superman in it.

    The problem NOW is that they're not canceling Batman & Robin as Morrison moves on. It's a title that was created for Morrison and is linked to him in a way. I have a feeling DC is going to run into the problem Marvel did with Astonishing X-Men and the first Punisher MAX volume. You have two character or team defining runs on a title created specifically for a creative team; what the hell do you do for an encore? Unsurprisingly, it didn't work and both were canceled after the fact well after they should have been before being relaunched for the new teams, which is what should have happened in the first place. If they wanted to keep Batman & Robin, they should have canceled and relaunched it; or just canceled it period, because it's probably going to be pretty redundant. Of course, since it's a top seller, they're naturally reluctant to do that.

    As for Judd Winick, he can be a good writer with the right material. He's done great on some things - I really love his pre-OYL run - and awful on others. Some people just don't gel with his type of humor or whatnot though; and since he's already an easy target the vultures come out when he slips up. Which is unfair, since even talents like Warren Ellis have off days, but whatta ya gonna do? Fans. I tell ya.

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  13. Isn't Batman & Robin a top-selling title BECAUSE Morrison is writing it? If he's moving on to Batman Inc., I would expect the majority of sales to move to that title and away from B&R until it eventually gets cancelled.

    Related to this, am I the only one who thinks there are WAY too many Batman (and Batman family) titles on the market? Batman, Detective, Batman & Robin, Batman Confidential, Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, Red Robin, Azrael, Return of Bruce Wayne, plus the various mini-series or one-shots that are released on a regular basis, plus the new Batman Inc, Batman: Dark Knight, and Batwoman series. And I've probably missed a few (that was off the top of my head). I've decided to just focus on buying the Morrison Batman trades, since they seem to be the "main" story right now and everyone else is just trying to follow what GM is doing. But if there were only 2-3 Batman titles a month, I might consider getting all the trades, since it's a bit more reasonable. So I view that as lost sales on DC's part (although I'm sure this is not the case for all their customers).

    DC really seems to be focusing on their core characters; a dozen different Batman and Superman titles a month, and now they're going from 2 to 3 Green Lantern monthlies, and didn't they announce they're putting out a second Flash series, focusing on I guess Wally and the other non-Barry speedsters? To me, this suggests that rather than trying to gain new readers by introducing different types of series, they're instead trying to get more money out of existing readers by adding to the number of books each month for characters they want to follow. I'm not necessarily against this; as long as the stories in the 3 GL books and the 2 Flash books stay of good quality then I'll buy them, and I enjoy having more to read of those characters, but I worry about the quality dropping with the more titles added.

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  14. I agree, there are too many Batman series right now... except for BATMAN, the obvious move would have been to cancel the series Morrison left. For instance, transform Batman & Robin into Batman Inc, and give BATMAN to Tomasi and Gleason. I'm intrigued to see what Snyder and Jock do in Detective, though maybe the back-ups could have been done by Dini and Nguyen, cancelling Streets of Gotham (which is not giving us the potential we know Dini has)

    Regarding the Spanish DC Collections, I haven't read them, so I can't comment on them on that level. I think it could be interesting to talk about international DC collections in a special post or something like that (I don't know what you think about that).
    To talk about everything Spain has collected and USA has not could be interesting. I just searched for other countries and saw how Panini is publishing DC almost everywhere (except for Italy, where Planeta is doing the same they do in Spain) but it seems they do not collect a lot of series like Planeta does.
    I don't know who they have working there choosing DC Collections, but I want him at the DC Collected Editions department! I want to read collected editions of The Spectre by Ostrander and Mandrake and the whole Waid run on Flash!

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  15. @D. Mark Simms: Well, as long as good stories come out of it, I'm not sure there is a such thing as too many. But in all honesty, I do think they're pushing it with this. If anything, Batman & Robin should be canceled; like I said, there's a good chance this is going to end up like some of Marvel's series they created for a creative team and then tried to keep going after that team left. Didn't exactly work out, talented replacement team or not.

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  16. Actually, Mark, DC has been expanding its most popular franchises since early 2009, in an attempt to minimize the effects of the latest economic crisis. Even JSA got three spin-offs: JSA All-Stars, Power Girl and Magog.

    I agree that there will be way too many Batman books once Bruce Wayne comes back, but I think some of them will get cancelled soon enough, while Finch's book will come out so infrequently it will become the new All-Star Batman and Robin.

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